Clinton Mulls Plan for Lafayette Park

Would rename it after JFKS widow

By Paul Bedard

President Clinton, who dramatically tightened security by closing Pennsylvania Avenue in fronr of the White House, is considering a plan to redesign Lafayette Park and name it after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The plan also calls for Pennsylvania Avenue to go through an underground tunnel between 15th and 17th streets. The four-lane tunnel, fortified to contain an explosion, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to administration officials.

Both concepts are part of a proposal drawn up by a prominent architect and friend of the former first lady. Lafayette Park would be ringed with an iron gate that could be closed at night or for presidential events.

The blueprint drawn by John Carl Warnecke, who helped Mrs. Onassis to renovate Lafayette Square to its current appearance, would place fountains around the park and grass and bushes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"By embracing a design for a more beautiful area that will be attractive to the president and by making this a special beautiful plaza for all those visiting and viewing the front of the president's house, this will resolve most of the security problems those responsible for the White House safety now face," Mr. Warnecke said.

White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn said "Warnecke was consulted by the Treasury Department," which conducted the security review that led to closing Pennsylvania Avenue.

In a letter and report to The Washington Times urging the newspaper to promote the project, Mr. Warnecke -- also the designer of the Kennedy Memorial Grave in Arlington National Cemetery and the Senate Hart Building -- said "the president needs help and guidance" in the administration's search for ways to make the White House more secure, yet open to the public.

His plan to build a "Grand Plaza and Promenade for Beauty and Safety of the White House in Memory of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis" is one of several under study by the White House, said an administration official.

Mr. Clinton was close to Mrs. Onassis until her death last year. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the president backed a 1993 plan to push a special exhibit in Washington to honor the former first lady's efforts to clean up Lafayette Park, according to Mr. Warnecke.

At times, Mr. Clinton has modeled his presidency after the Kennedy "Camelot" era and even spent part of his 1993 vacation on Martha's Vineyard with Mrs. Onassis.

On Saturday, Mr. Clinton bowed to warnings from his security advisers and shut down the two-block-long stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the "people's house.

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said yesterday that the plan was "a very good and balanced approach" that ensures security for the White House against car bombs while continuing to allow pedestrian traffic.

Presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos said "the president wanted Pennsylvania Avenue to stay open, but in the interests of the security of the White House and following the recommendations of the Secret Service, he felt it had to be closed."

A similar Secret Service plan to shut down the avenue was presented to President Reagan after he was gunned down in front of the Washington Hilton Hotel, according to administration officials.

Mr. Reagan, who survived the would-be assassin's attack, endorsed the project but said if would not begin while he served as president. "Not on my watch" he said.

Mr. Warnecke's proposal is an expansion of his 1962 plan to preserve the character of Lafayette Square by keeping the town houses and building red brick federal structures behind them. The style later went on to dominate modern architecture.

In his letter to the Times, Mr. Warnecke said: "A similar opportunity now exists for President Clinton with the tunnel and plaza project. The tunnel will solve the major security and traffic problem of bombing threats in front of the White House. At the same time the plaza will greatly enhance the beauty and quality of the main entrance to the president's house.

The recent rash of violence against the White House -- last year's plane crash and gunfire, for example -- prompted Mr. Warnecke to revive his plan. However, it wouldn't have stopped any of the recent attacks on the facility since none came by vehicle.

In a Jan. 18 letter to Mr. Clinton, he said a redesigned Lafayette Square and Pennsylvania Avenue Front of the White House would stand as a memorial to Kennedy and Mrs. Onassis, who died of cancer last year.

After the April 19 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Mr. Warnecke revived his Plan. In a second letter and report to Mr. Clinton, the architect said:

"The most ideal target for terrorists is still the home and office Of our president, the White House. This is one of the most important symbols of our democracy and our Country. This is the house that belongs to all the people. This is not only a physical symbol of our country, but this is a symbol of our way of life that our forebears created and the way we continue to live our lives."

Mr. Warnecke's plan has been endorsed in part by the National Park Service, which has produced a 20-year plan to eliminate roads around the White House from I Street to Constitution Avenue. That plan, initially revealed by The Washington Times, would also put Pennsylvania Avenue in an underground tunnel.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park